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Murray-Darling plan headed for failure

reform to restore the health of the Murray-Darling Basin is "at great risk"

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robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
1 1 Dec 2017

(see report at )

The $13 billion reform to restore the health of the Murray-Darling Basin is "at great risk", amid excessive payments to irrigators, failing environmental flows and an ignorance of water extraction that is "inconceivable" given available technology, a review of the 10-year plan has found.

The independent report by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, released on Thursday, singles out Queensland and NSW for weak regulation. Victoria, too, is criticised for putting its river gum forests at risk by not backing overland flooding that downstream users support.

The Wentworth report said a weakening of oversight of the costly plan had led to a "systematic weakening" of the plan, "leaving Australia's most productive basin seriously compromised".

Jamie Pittock, a water expert from the Australian National University who was a key author of the report, said this year's alleged water theft in NSW that spawned a spate of inquiries was "just the tip of the iceberg".

There was "institutional corruption", Dr Pittock said. "It's the capture of state agencies by the powerful industry interests against the broader public interest."

For its part, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority said it welcomed the Wentworth report but said it was "confident we are on track" to implement the plan.
The Wentworth report is among the latest in a flurry of recent reports into water management in the basin.

These include a compliance review released last week, a scathing assessment by the NSW Ombudsman earlier this month - which disclosed for the first time it had conducted three previous investigations in the sector - and the NSW government's own independent commissioner's report also released on Thursday.

The irrigation community had been a "major beneficiary" of water reforms so far, with "windfall gains" made from a large transfer of water entitlements from public to private ownership, the report said.
Environment measures, too, continue to be poor across the basin. Native fish populations in the Murray River have dropped to just 10 per cent of pre-colonial era levels over the past century, the report said.

While many of the wetlands had shown some improvement - such as the Gwydir wetlands - "they remain in a degraded condition" and fall short of the ecological standards listed in the plan's treaty, it said.
Jeremy Buckingham, the NSW Greens water spokesman, though, said the Wentworth report shows the plan is "on the brink of failure because of recalcitrant states, a tame Murray Darling Basin Authority, a dysfunction water market that is being rorted, a lack of compliance, and National Party water ministers acting to destroy it".

"We have had cascading reports concluding the Murray Darling Basin Plan is failing and billions of taxpayer's dollars are being wasted on projects that are not restoring our rivers and wetlands," he said.

robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
2 21 Dec 2017

Australia's new Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, says he's committed to a controversial addition of 450 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling, casting aside doubts about the plan strewn by his predecessor Barnaby Joyce.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, the first-term MP and now cabinet minister said he was confident the extra environmental flows could be achieved without economic damage to irrigators their and communities.

"We've made the decision to support the plan and that's part of the plan," Mr Littleproud said. "I don't think anyone should say we're going to blow up the building. We've got a plan, let's work collaboratively to achieve that."

The extended target would take to 3200 gigalitres the total amount of water returned from irrigated agriculture to the river system under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

But it is subject to a fierce battle between the basin states, with South Australia adamant the extra water must be delivered, but the eastern states concerned about the effect on upstream communities.

A report by the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority has already recommended the amount of water recovered from northern NSW and southern Queensland be reduced, because previous buybacks have smashed local economies and increased unemployment. That recommendation is now before the Senate.

Last year, Mr Joyce stunned South Australia with a letter to the state's water minister, Ian Hunter, in which he reneged on the Basin Plan and said he doubted the 450 gigalitres could be achieved without causing social and economic harm. The situation had reached an "unsolvable stalemate", Mr Joyce said.

(California, the Middle East etc - water shortages galore!)

robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
3 20 Feb 2018

The economy is sustained by the natural resources the environment supplies to it and by the natural processes that are part of the human production process. We rely on the ecosystem also to deal with the mountains of waste and emissions we generate.

It's equally clear that economic activity can damage the environment and its ability to function. We're exploiting the environment in ways that are literally unsustainable, and must stop doing so before the damage becomes irreparable.

But if it's all so obvious, why are we having trouble doing what we know we should? Why, for instance, has more fighting broken out over our use and abuse of the Murray-Darling river system, a problem we've been told our governments – state and federal – are busy fixing?

One reason is that some people – not many of us – earn their living in ways that damage the environment, and don't want their businesses and lives disrupted by being obliged to stop.

Often, they don't bear the cost of the damage they're doing. It's borne by farmers downstream, or by the wider community, or the next generation.

In the case of the Murray-Darling, it's only the costs being born by downstream irrigators – and downstream water drinkers in Adelaide – that keep the fight alive.

Since it's hard to be sure when damage to the environment has reached the point of no return, there's a great temptation to say doing a bit more won't hurt. I'll be right, and the future can look after itself. Business people think that; politicians even more so.

Democracy has degenerated into a battle between vested interests. Get in there to fight for your own interests, and don't worry about whether it all adds up or what happens to those who lose out.

The political parties have succumbed to this approach. They're too busy keeping themselves in power by oiling enough of the squeakiest wheels to worry about showing leadership, about the wider community interest or about any future beyond the next election.

I don't trust any of them, nor the Murray-Darling Basin Authority they appointed, which seems to see its job as assuring us everything's fine, when clearly it isn't.

Just how bad things are – how little progress has been made, how little has been done and how much spent on subsidies to irrigators – is made clear in a declaration issued this month by a dozen academics - scientists and economists - led by professors Quentin Grafton and John Williams, of the Australian National University, who've devoted their careers to studying water systems and water policy.

The decades of degradation of the Murray-Darling Basin, exacerbated by the Millennium drought, finally led John Howard to announce a $10 billion national plan for water security (since increased to $13 billion) in the months leading up to the 2007 election. Its intention was to return levels of water extraction for irrigation to environmentally sustainable levels.

It took until late 2012 for federal and state governments to agree on a basin plan to reduce water diversion by 2,750 gigalitres a year by July 2019, even though this was known to be inadequate to meet South Australia's water needs.

So far $6 billion has been spent on "water recovery", with $4 billion going not on buying back water rights but on subsidies to irrigators to upgrade to more efficient systems which lose less water.

Trouble is, those loses were finding their way back into the system, but now they don't. This has left the irrigators better off, but it's not clear there's much benefit in greater flows down the river. And no one has checked.

Federal figures show that buying water from willing sellers is 60 per cent cheaper than building questionable engineering works.

But little money has been spent helping communities adjust to the effects of adverse changes.

There's little evidence of much environmental improvement as a result of all the money spent, and river flows have been declining since 2011.

Until the ABC's 4 Corners program in July last year, many Australians were unaware of alleged water theft, nor of grossly deficient compliance along the Darling River.

State governments don't seem to be trying hard to fulfil their commitments under the 2012 agreement. Nor did the feds seem to take much interest when Barnaby Joyce was the minister.

The blow-up over the Senate's refusal to go along with a new round of reductions in the amount by which water extraction from the river is to be reduced – supposedly to be offset by increased spending on dubious engineering projects – is just the latest in the various governments' pretence of fixing the environmental problem, while quietly looking after their irrigator mates.